‘This is no longer about salami-slicing but cutting. The things you view as part of the social fabric are going to stop and the only option is to look at alternatives.’
Thus one of the speakers at People, Places and Spaces: community-led solutions for Bristol, summed up the bleak reality for the city, following the council’s announcement that it needs to cut more than £100m from its budget over the next five years.
Figuring out the ‘alternative’ was the aim of the event, convened by Locality South West and Bristol Council, and attended by over 200 people from community and voluntary organisations across the city.
There are no positives from a local council making budget cut of the size that are coming to Bristol, but the conversations that have begun in the city could, it is hoped, bring fresh thinking to a range of issues across the city.
Bristol Council and Locality South West are partnering with NEF and CLES for the Good City Economies project in Bristol and will spend the next six months on a range of work aimed at embedding resilient, community-led solutions to the city’s social and economic issues.
Firstly, the project will seek to build a strong community business network in the city that works closely with the council around ‘alternative’ solutions as services move from publicly funded provision. Secondly, it will seek to embed resilience within the city’s local economic strategy.
Challenging the perception of ‘community-led’
Paul Hassan, development manager at Locality South West, wants the community sector and the council to work together to build new models for public services and community businesses, models that build on the social and physical assets of the place and which challenge perceptions of what community-led can look like.
The council’s corporate strategy document calls for ‘community-led’ solutions not only for the running of parks and libraries but also for greater social and economic resilience. Another Locality project – Keep it local for Economic Resilience – is currently doing a piece of work in the city to look at how procurement structures could be used to create more social value.
There are many models and anchor institutions already based in the city, including Knowle West Media Centre, which runs Bristol Maker Lab, which trains people in digital manufacturing and takes on commercial contracts, Barton Hill Settlement and Southmead Development Trust.
But a key challenge for the council and the city as a whole is how to integrate and align some of its functions, not only to save money but also to allow it to think differently about its social and economic challenges. How could commissioning and procurement structures change so that they work more closely with the local anchor community organisations? How could social and economic aims be better aligned? What does innovation mean in relation to local economic resilience?
For while Bristol has huge levels of social capital and community involvement, the city also has deep social and economic inequalities, with a wide gap between its richer and poorer areas.
Integration is beginning to happen. The mayor has set up a City Office that will bring local public, private and social sector organisations together from across the city to tackle issues such as homelessness.
Embedding resilience within the city’s economy
The council has also launched a resilience strategy as a framework for decision-making in the city, uniting Bristol’s people, institutions and organisations to focus on what’s needed to build resilience into all aspects of city life.
It is a 50-year view of the city, developed with the idea that a new economic paradigm is needed, one that moves away from a focus on GDP and GVA and towards one that works more closely with the particularities of Bristol.
Sarah Toy is the council’s resilience officer with a brief to work across departments to embed resilience across a range of issues. Over the next six months she will work with NEF to look at ways in which the city’s current approach to city growth can be shifted. This could include, for example, applying a resilience impact assessment to any proposed economic development plans, and working with the economic development team to develop joint approaches to implementing the resilient city strategy.
- Turn to page 2 to read Paul Hasan’s blog: People, places and spaces
Clare Goff is former Editor of New Start magazine